Free election-day transit bill clears committee

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – With the Legislature’s fall agenda still a work in progress, a bill requiring public transit agencies to offer free rides on statewide election days has cleared a key committee hurdle.

The Transportation Committee voted last week with no dissenters to advance its version of legislation (H 4095 / S 2519) that supporters dubbed the “FARE Act,” sending the House and Senate bills to each chamber’s respective Ways and Means Committee as the summer recess draws to a close. Sixteen members of the committee supported the favorable report, according to co-chair Sen. Joseph Boncore’s office.

Three lawmakers — independent Rep. Susannah Whipps of Athol, Republican Rep. Steven Howitt of Seekonk and Republican Rep. David DeCoste of Norwell — reserved their rights, and Democrat Rep. Rady Mom of Lowell did not vote, Boncore’s office said. The redrafted bill would prohibit the MBTA and the state’s regional transit authorities from charging fares for rapid transit, bus and trolley service on fixed routes on the day of a biennial statewide primary election or a biennial statewide general election.

Supporters say offering no-cost public transit would help improve voter participation, particularly in lower-income communities that historically have lower turnout rates.

“While whiter, highly educated, suburban communities traditionally experience the highest voter turnout rates, more diverse, less educated, urban communities witness lower voter turnout rates,” the MassVOTE voting rights organization said in a statement. “By providing communities like this easier access to the polls, we hope that the FARE Act can help close the state’s gross voter turnout gap.”

Massachusetts could become the first state to offer fare-free public transit during statewide elections, according to MassVOTE, which said several major metropolitan areas around the country including Los Angeles County and Dallas already have similar policies in place at the local level.

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